January 21, 2009

Doubt *spoilers*

I went to see the movie Doubt last night, originally a play by John Patrick Shanley, starring Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams.

For anyone who hasn't seen it, you can click here for a trailer, and here's the synopsis from IMDB:

It's 1964, St. Nicholas in the Bronx. A charismatic priest, Father
Flynn, is trying to upend the schools' strict customs, which have long been
fiercely guarded by Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the iron-gloved Principal who
believes in the power of fear and discipline. The winds of political change are
sweeping through the community, and indeed, the school has just accepted its
first black student, Donald Miller. But when Sister James, a hopeful innocent,
shares with Sister Aloysius her guilt-inducing suspicion that Father Flynn is
paying too much personal attention to Donald, Sister Aloysius sets off on a
personal crusade to unearth the truth and to expunge Flynn from the school. Now,
without a shard of proof besides her moral certainty, Sister Aloysius locks into
a battle of wills with Father Flynn which threatens to tear apart the community
with irrevocable consequence.

So now you know what it's about, if you haven't seen it, please turn back now, as the rest of this post I'm going to be discussing my interpretation and it's going to ruin the movie for you. Not even in a small way that you'll get over, but a quite obvious way where you pretty much won't forgive me. So don't do that to yourself. Come back later after you've seen it, which I HIGHLY recommend, because it is the most powerful drama I've seen in a long time. The more I think about it, the more I like it.


The central theme of this movie is doubt versus certainty, the director plays a headgame with the audience, and has said that he wants the audience to experience doubt, as it is superior to certainty.

My reaction to Sister Aloysius (Streep) and Father Flynn (Hoffman) was my favourite experience of the movie, as the relationship Father Flynn may have with Donald is completely unknown - you are whipped to and fro believing that a character is "good" or "bad".

Sister Aloysius is cranky and vicious in her quest to out Father Flynn, which is completely unfounded except for her belief that he has done wrong. Father Flynn is gentle and plying, but brief scenes made me uncomfortable and suspicious that he may be acting inappropriately, as well as his vague evasive answers to the nuns when questioned.

Their climactic encounter in her office is an amazing scene in which I loved Sister Aloysius. She "steps away from God" to make sure that the right thing is done - she lies.
Father Flynn taunts her many times with his nonchalant authority over her. He shouts that she "has taken vows, obedience being one! You answer to us!"
She replies, "I will step outside the church if that's what needs to be done, till the door should shut behind me! I will do what needs to be done, though I'm damned to Hell! You should understand that, or you will mistake me. "

Finally, the last scene reveals to us that Father has resigned. Sister Aloysius has reported him to the Monsignor who has demoted and chastised her and promoted the Father to pastor of another district, giving him pretty much free reign and to be answerable to no one.
She has taken on the "old boys club", as shown by the earlier juxtaposed scenes of the silent, austere nuns and the rowdy, drunk priests eating dinner separately. She has taken them on and lost.

I believe it is this that causes her to break down in front of Sister James and proclaim that she has her doubts. In the end her doubt that Father Flynn had done wrong never waivered, even though all those around her didn't believe. To her, his resignation was his confession, though it could have also been the path of least resistance when faced with a woman with such strong beliefs.

Her belief in God and the church, and the church's chain of command is not separate until the end. She is under the thumb of a dishonourable male heirarchy who would brush such sinister accusations under the carpet - causing her to doubt her place in the church and ultimately her faith.

Two other ideas that I found interesting were that Father Flynn could be gay, and also that he could be molesting many other children unknown.
In a heartbreaking scene with Sister A and Donald's mother, it is revealed that Donald is gay. Could Father Flynn also be gay, and just protecting Donald from bullies?
There are a few other strange scenes with two of the other boys that made me wonder if they are not also being molested, just reacting differently than Donald. Where Donald's reaction is one of love and adoration for Father Flynn, another boy, William London is shown flinching and reacting with anger towards Father Flynn every scene, though this storyline is never investigated.

Apparently the director only told Hoffman whether or not his character was guilty. I think this strategy worked amazingly - he is at times natural and nice to make you believe him, and at others, vague and arrogant enough to make you have no doubt about his guilt. Meryl Streep's performance is amazing, her inflexible "dragon lady" is too hard to sympathise with, even though her quest is noble and right.

Since there is no real conclusion to the movie, your opinion of it becomes sort of a personality test. Do you think he did it, or not?

As for me, I believe Father Flynn is guilty, but I love that considering it over and over never fails to make me doubt that - the entire premise.


  1. I was also interested in the ways in which the different boys responded differently to Father Flynn. I definitely picked up on it, and I wish that some of those stories could have been expanded on just a little. Not so much that we get a definitive answer - I like not having a definitive answer - but I think it would have been possible to give us a little more information. Maybe William London is also gay, and is reacting because he feels an attraction for FF, but hates himself for it?

    I did come away thinking that FF was guilty, even though it made me really sad to come to that conclusion. You just want to like him so much, and then you find out that, even if he's not guilty, he does not respect the nuns. Even if he's not guilty, it's sad to see his personality for what it really is.

  2. William London being gay could be a possibility - did you notice that the only times when cigarettes were featured prominently were when William got out of school and lit up, and near the end when Father Flynn takes a pack from his pocket - perhaps Father Flynn gave William cigarettes.
    Also, do you think that perhaps when William puts his hand on Sister James, that could be him trying to reclaim his masculinity in some way, trying to prove something to himself?

    You're definitely right about seeing his real personality. After realising he doesn't respect the nuns, his attempts to pass himself off to Sister James as a loving person who's just "trying to make the church more friendly" become so fake.

    Thanks for your comment! This movie was awesomely thought-provoking.


Thanks for commenting. Zombietron reserves the right to not publish your comment if you choose to be an asshole.
Have a nice day.